August 03, 2022

Animal Law LLM Alum Gains International Attention for Legal Action to Free Orangutan

Diego Plaza, LLM Alum (’20, Chile) has been advocating to free Sandai, a 28-year-old orangutan, from a Chilean zoo.
  • Diego Plaza advocating for Sandai’s release

Diego Plaza, LLM Alum (’20, Chile) and CALS Global Ambassador (2021-2022), has gained international attention for his advocacy to free Sandai, a 28-year-old orangutan, from a Chilean zoo.

Diego is Founder and President of the Interspecies Justice Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that he founded as part of his CALS Global Ambassador Project. Late last month, the Foundation filed Chile’s first habeas corpus petition for a non-human animal. The petition was supported by 21 international experts in the fields of law, philosophy, primatology and biology, who urged the court to recognize Sandai as a non-human person and subject of rights. The petition was rejected by the Court of San Miguel, but the Foundation has appealed the decision and will continue its legal advocacy on Sandai’s behalf.

Sandai is a male orangutan from Borneo who has lived at the Buin Zoo in Chile since 2014. Orangutans can live up to 60 years, are highly intelligent, and share 96.4% of their genes with humans. The Foundation argues that Sandai lives in conditions of isolation and loneliness and in a climate that radically departs from his natural environment. Currently, Sandai lives in a solitary enclosure, away from other great apes and with the only possibility of accessing a larger courtyard dependent on the temperature. One of the Foundation’s experts, biologist and ethologist Dr. Marc Bekoff, submitted expert testimony to the court that “Sandai’s body language reflects a depressed, defeated and vulnerable emotional and psychological state, which is normal if we consider the conditions in which Sandai is being kept.” The Foundation’s petition seeks Sandai’s release to a sanctuary for large primates. More than 370,000 people have already signed a petition on change.org to support Sandai’s release.

Free Sandai

Diego, a native of Viña del Mar, Chile, has always had a strong passion for animals. He obtained his law degree from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaiso in 2015. While studying law in Valparaiso, he co-founded the first student animal studies group. He later obtained a degree in environment and sustainable development from the same institution. In 2020, he obtained his Animal Law LLM from Lewis & Clark Law School. During the first semester of his LLM studies, Diego founded the Center for Chilean Animal Law Studies CEDA Chile (Centro de Estudios de Derecho Animal CEDA Chile in Spanish), the first center specialized in Chilean animal law. Diego has issued opinions on upcoming Chilean legislation and has collaborated with several animal NGOs and coalitions. He has also been invited as a guest lecturer in animal law courses taught by Chilean, American, and European universities.

Twice selected as one of our CALS Global Ambassadors, one of Diego’s projects was to create a nongovernmental organization that aims to carry out both direct and judicial animal activism towards intersectional and interspecies justice. That year, he created Fundación Justicia Interespecie. The case for Sandai is its first piece of litigation. Of the case, Diego says, “This is an important breakthrough for animal law in Chile. Sandai is not only a sentient being, but also a non-human person, a subject of rights and therefore entitled to the protection of his most fundamental interests such as the right to individual liberty, to life and to the prohibition of torture.” To learn more about Sandai’s case, visit CNN Chile and Euro Weekly News.

The Center for Animal Law Studies

The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) was founded in 2008 with a mission to educate the next generation of animal law advocates and advance animal protection through the law. With vision and bold risk-taking, CALS has since developed into a world-renowned animal law epicenter, with the most comprehensive animal law curriculum offered anywhere. In addition, CALS is the only program that offers two advanced legal degrees in animal law (an LLM degree and a Master of Studies degree for non-lawyers, both degrees are offered in person and online) and multiple animal law clinics and experiential learning opportunities. CALS’ Alumni-in Action from more than 20 countries are advancing legal protections and making a difference for animals around the world.